Parents and teachers are due to be issued with an upgraded risk assessment Hong Kong schools are on high alert to guard against the mystery flu-like bug amid fears that an outbreak among students could lead to a frightening epidemic. Authorities are expected to release an upgraded risk assessment today warning schools, parents and students of the growing threat of the illness, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This follows a recent Education and Manpower Bureau circular to more than 2,000 schools advising teachers and parents to be alert for the symptoms - which include a fever and cough. Parents are being told children with flu-like symptoms will be sent home from school and that adults should 'take leave', seek medical help and keep sick children in isolation. Hong Kong International School yesterday moved quickly to quell rumours that a high school student had been hospitalised suffering the mystery illness. 'I was asked about a high school student who was in the hospital with pneumonia,' said Diana VanFleet, the school's spokeswoman. 'I have followed up. In the interest of rumour control I want parents to know that the high school student has normal bacterial pneumonia and is recovering with treatment.' She said the school would be monitoring absences and following up on unusual cases. Hundreds of schools have sent out similar health advisories warning parents about the mysterious outbreak and ways to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. However, some parents have taken to issuing individual alerts, with one anonymous circular signed by 'a very concerned parent' warning of the potential for an epidemic. 'Up to now the infection seems to have been limited to the hospital staff and their families,' the statement said. 'If the second outburst took place in one of the schools, the consequences could be very disastrous. Then Hong Kong will be in the grip of a gigantic plague, like the one which killed tens of thousands of people in 1894.' The statement slammed the 'complacency' of the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) in issuing cautionary guidelines to school authorities. Ho Hon-kuen, vice-president of the pressure group Education Convergence, agreed, urging the bureau to set more concrete guidelines for schools to avoid the spread of the atypical pneumonia. 'The circular is not very useful. The EMB should draft guidelines to give schools the right to order students who are ill or have symptoms of the atypical pneumonia to stay at home,' he said. 'Otherwise, parents could complain that we are depriving their kid the right to go to school.' The circular should also have told schools to avoid mass gatherings and the use of air-conditioners, Mr Ho said. Antony Ip Sing-piu, headmaster of St Edward's Catholic Primary School in Lam Tin, said there was not enough available information about symptoms of the illness. Many schools have paid more attention to hygiene since the outbreak of the pneumonia. Wu Chiu-ha, president of Hong Kong Kindergartens Association and principal of St Teresa Kindergartens' Group, said the janitors in her kindergartens had started using bleach to sterilise school furniture and toilets every day instead of every week.